Red Flags When Interviewing

Updated: Feb 13

When you’re job seeking, you will interview in all sorts of companies.

Some companies are companies you might not want to work at for different reasons.

In this post, I share my list of red flags to watch out for in interviews, that can signal you something is wrong in that company and you might not enjoy working in it.

Hopefully these would be helpful to all you job seekers out there.

1. The HR interview is asking you questions that are forcing past trauma and will make you cry to “find your weaknesses”.

Some HR interviewers believe they are psychologists. They are not, and you didn’t come for therapy. They have no right asking about personal things not related to the role, digging into your trauma and what makes you cringe. Working in this type of company can harm your self esteem, confidence and general well-being.

2. When they give you a take-home task which takes more than two hours, but don’t offer to pay even a minimal fee for it. Bonus points if it’s a real business case from the company you’re interviewing for.

This can mean the company is trying to use your services for free to solve a problem they have. A company should value your time just as much you value theirs. Just because you’re currently job seeking, does not mean you are free labor they can abuse.

3. When they send you to an external company to do a psychometric test.

Unless you are joining a government agency, defense contractor or the military, there is no reason for you to take a psychometric or psychological test of any kind when applying for a job.

This can show outdated thinking and low quality hiring process from the company that will probably show in other aspects of the workplace as well.

4. When they tell you in the HR interview that the previous CEO embezzled money from the company, the company went bankrupt, got acquired, and now everything is fine (or any similar story).

It might just be fine. But it’s also a risk. Who knows what other employees knew and kept quiet? Who knows if the company can come back from this crisis? It can be unstable and lay a dark cloud over a company’s reputation and may harm future business and vitality.

5. When you Google the company’s name and find out they got a restraining order against employees trying to form a union, and prevented them from talking to other employees, to avoid improving their working conditions.

Now, unions are not necessarily a good thing for employees in every case, and you might not want a union. However, a company that goes to such lengths to prevent its employees from getting their basic legal rights is a place you might want to steer clear of. They could be preventing employees from other rights as well which may make working there less pleasant.

6. When you Google the company’s name and find out they closed down an office in a certain country, fired all employees and reopened in another country to prevent the employees from forming a union.

Same as the above mentioned point. This is a real story and it just shows of how little the company values their employees.

7. When they tell you you’ll be the only person in the company doing the job (e.g. InfoSec) with no growth plans, and be responsible for everything from audits to incident response and network bug fixes, for a 10K people company.

You can tell from this moment your job will be your whole life and more. It will lead to enormous levels of stress and is most likely impossible to achieve, meaning you are set up to fail. Don’t start a job you know you will fail at because you’re not set up for success.

8. When you go to interview in the company’s physical office and see all employees seem identical, from gender to race to looks to age group, and you’re the odd one out.

Some people might like the challenge, but it will be a challenge to fit in. Depending on how different you are from the general population, this can be an unpleasant experience.

9. When the company’s offices are at the same space as a strip club or rooms to rent by the hour.

This shows the company does not care so much for employees’ well being, or cannot afford to care. Unless you care about the cause of the company and the product so much and this is your only option, avoid these types of places.

10. When the company’s values are controversial and/or do not fit with your personal values, and might look bad in your CV in the future to other employers.

Even if they pay really well, companies who work in morally questionable fields that may harm people, abuse people or create any other sort of harm or questionable behavior - will harm you for just having them on your CV, as companies who care about their reputation will avoid former employees of such companies, which will limit your options significantly when you search for a job next time.

11. When they ask illegal questions in the interview.

Different countries have different laws about what is allowed to ask in job interviews. Get familiar with the laws for your country and avoid places that violate the law already in the interview process. This can indicate they may violate the law in other work practices as well.

In addition, these laws exist for a reason, as some questions can lead to discrimination against certain types of candidates.

12. When you came to an interview at their office and they have no working toilet, or it’s outside the office in a public space / it’s dark / it’s filthy.

Similarly to the point about an office next to a strip club, either they don’t care about employees’ well being or they can’t afford it. Either way, avoid it.

This is my list based on experience I had in interviews. There may be many more red flags I didn’t think of, so stay alert when interviewing. Don’t assume that just because someone has offices and a website and some employees then it means they definitely know what they’re doing or are doing everything legally, appropriately or to your benefit.

The goal is to not just get paid, but also have at least an average to good time when you go to work and spend your best years and time there.

And the caveat - yes, it’s privileged to be able to make these choices. Not everyone can, or not always. I hope these tips will help those who thought they can’t make the choice or didn’t think they have any, to try and get better options when they can.

Now go get that job!

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